Interlude

Posted in Uncategorized on August 24, 2016 by telescoper

Rather later than originally planned I’ve finally got the nod to be a guest of the National Health Service for a while. I’ll therefore  be taking a break from blogging until they’re done with me. Normal services will be resumed as soon as possible, probably but, for the time being, there will now follow a short intermission.

 

Glamorgan versus Sussex

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on August 23, 2016 by telescoper

Another of life’s little coincidences came my way today in the form of a County Championship match between Glamorgan and Sussex in Cardiff. Naturally, being on holiday, and the SWALEC Stadium being very close to my house, I took the opportunity to see the first day’s play.

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Sussex used the uncontested toss to put Glamorgan in to bat. It was a warm sunny day with light cloud and no wind. One would have imagined conditions would have been good for batting, but the Sussex skipper may have seen something in the pitch or, perhaps more likely, knew about Glamorgan’s batting frailties…

As it turned out, there didn’t seem to be much pace in the pitch, but there was definitely some swing and movement for the Sussex bowlers from the start. Glamorgan’s batsman struggled early on, losing a wicket in the very first over, and slumped to 54 for 5 at one stage, recovering only slightly to 87 for 5 at lunch.

After the interval the recovery continued, largely because of Wagg (who eventually fell for an excellent 57) and Morgan who was unbeaten at the close. Glamorgan finished on 252 all out on the stroke of the tea interval. Not a great score, but a lot better than looked likely at 54 for 5.

During the tea interval I wandered onto the field and looked at the pitch, which had quite a bit of green in it:

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Perhaps that’s why Sussex put Glamorgan in?

Anyway, when Sussex came out to bat it was a different story. Openers Joyce and Nash put on 111 for the first wicket, but Nelson did the trick for Glamorgan and Joyce was out just before stumps bringing in a nightwatchman (Briggs) to face the last couple of overs.

A full day’s cricket of 95 overs in the sunshine yielded 363 runs for the loss of 12 wickets. Not bad at all! It’s just a pity there were only a few hundred people in the crowd!

Sussex are obviously in a strong position but the weather forecast for the later part of this week is not good so they should push on tomorrow and try to force a result!

Poll – Do you Listen to Music while you Study?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 by telescoper

A propos de nothing in particular, the other day I posted a little poll on Twitter inquiring whether or not people like to have music playing while they work. The responses surprised me, so I thought I’d try the same question on here (although I won’t spill the beans on here immediately. I’ve made the question quite general in the hope that as wide a range of people as possible (e.g. students, researchers and faculty) will feel able to respond. By “study” I mean anything that needs you to concentrate, including practical work, coding, data analysis, reading papers, writing papers, etc. It doesn’t mean any mindless activity, such as bureaucracy.

Please fill the poll in before reading my personal response, which comes after the “read more” tag.

Oh, and if you pick “Depends” then please let me know what it depends on through the comments box (e.g. type of music, type of study..)

Continue reading

Collector’s Item

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on August 21, 2016 by telescoper

I read in today’s Observer an interesting opinion piece by Martin Jacques, who was editor of a magazine called Marxism Today until it folded at the end of 1991. I was a subscriber, in fact, and for some reason I have kept my copy of the final edition all this time. Here’s the front cover:

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I note that it says “Collector’s Item” on the front, though I’m not at all sure it’s worth any more now than the £1.80 I paid nearly 25 years ago!

An American doctor experiences the NHS. Again.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 by telescoper

Remember that story a couple of years ago by an American doctor about her experiences of the NHS? Well, here’s a sequel…

Dr. Jen Gunter

WIth my cousin WIth my cousin

Two years ago I wrote about my experience in a London emergency department with my son, Victor. That post has since been viewed > 450,000 times. There are over 800 comments with no trolls (a feat unto itself) and almost all of them express love for the NHS.

I was in England again this week. And yes, I was back in an emergency department, but this time with my cousin (who is English).

This is what happened.

My cousin loves high heels. As a former model she makes walking in the highest of heels look easy. However, cobblestone streets have challenges not found on catwalks and so she twisted her ankle very badly. Despite ice and elevation there was significant swelling and bruising and she couldn’t put any weight on her foot. I suggested we call her doctor and explain the situation. I was worried about a…

View original post 1,414 more words

The Summer Rain

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on August 20, 2016 by telescoper

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in, 
And gently swells the wind to say all’s well; 
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin, 
Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell. 

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats; 
But see that globe come rolling down its stem, 
Now like a lonely planet there it floats, 
And now it sinks into my garment’s hem. 

Drip drip the trees for all the country round, 
And richness rare distills from every bough; 
The wind alone it is makes every sound, 
Shaking down crystals on the leaves below. 

For shame the sun will never show himself, 
Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so; 
My dripping locks–they would become an elf, 
Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Worrying Times for UK Physics

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on August 19, 2016 by telescoper

As I’m more-or-less in between jobs at the moment, this is the first August in many that I haven’t been involved the clearing and confirmation process that helps students find places at university after the A-level results are released. I know how stressful it is for admissions staff and prospective students alike, so I’m not sorry to be out of it for once!

On the other hand I did notice something worrying that seems to be the continuation of a trend I noticed last year.  I quote from a piece issued by the Institute of Physics about the number of students taking A-level physics last year:

Although there was an overall rise of 2% in the number of A-level entries, the number taking physics fell to 36,287 compared with 36,701 last year – the first time numbers have fallen since 2006. The number of girls taking physics rose by 0.5%, however.

That decline is slight, of course, and it was  obviously too early to decide whether it indicated whether or not the UK has reached “Peak Physics”. Well, this year has confirmed that trend. According to a piece by the Wellcome Trust the number of entrants for physics A-level has fallen further this year, from 36,287 in 2015 to 35,344 in 2016. The Institute of Physics has also commented.

Virtually all students who get a Physics A-level do go to university, but by no means all do physics. It is also a qualifying subject for engineering and technology programmes, as well as medicine. It’s not clear yet whether the decline in A-level entry reflects a decline in the number of students going to start physics degrees at University this year, but this seems probable. This is good news if you’re an applicant with a Physics A-level, of course, because it increases the chances of you getting a place, but it’s no so good for physics as academic discipline.

Physics departments in UK universities are already competing for a very small pool of students with a Physics A-level.  The removal of student number controls allows  large universities to recruit as many students as they like, so the competition between universities for such a small number of applicants is extremely intense. Moreover, some universities, e.g. Newcastle and Hull, have opened up physics courses that they had previously closed, and others have started  new programmes based on what was anticipated to be an overall increase in demand. To support this expansion, many institutions have recruited extra numbers of teaching faculty assuming the salary costs would be covered from tuition fees. If the decline in overall student numbers continues then the budgets of many physics departments are going to look pretty grim, with potentially serious  consequences for the long-term sustainability of physics in many institutions.

I have to confess I’m worried. The physics community urgently needs to find out what is behind this fall. It’s not restricted to physics, in fact. Both biology and chemistry have also experienced a decline in the number of A-level entrants (from 44,864 to 43,242 and from 52,644 to 51,811 respectively), but the effect on physics is likely to be greater for the reasons I discussed above.

Mathematics numbers have also fallen, but by a much smaller percentage and from a much higher level: from 92,711 to 92,163.  I‘ve argued before that there’s a case on a number of grounds for scrapping the physics A-level as a requirement for entry to university as long as the student has mathematics. That may be a step too far for some, but it’s clear that if physics is to prosper we all have to think more creatively about how to increase participation. But how? Answers on a postcard – or through the comments box – please!

 

 

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